Battling the Tea Party over the Language of Liberty

Jul 27 2010 Published by under Featured News

There is a battle being waged in America today over the meaning of liberty. The Tea Party has co-opted the language of liberty, but freedom for all does not interest them. They want freedom for the few at the expense of the many. Real choice, real liberty, is devalued by the limited menu offered by the Tea Party. They want to “take America back” but they don’t want to share it.

The Tea Party is always carrying on about rights, but only some rights, and only for some people. Some people should absolutely not have rights: like gays and lesbians. According to President George W. Bush, Pagans shouldn’t even have their own headstones. They should be buried as good little Christians and Jews like everybody else.

That’s what happens when you divide a country into “real” Americans and those who are not real – a constructed other. Your religion gets ignored, and according to the same president, you shouldn’t even be considered citizens.

That’s a big right to take away.

Bush said that atheists weren’t patriots. He was being moderate. Today’s Tea Party rhetoric renders the constructed other “terrorists” or at the least, “soft” on terrorism.

The Tea Party is always carrying on about taxes, but only when it’s rich individuals being taxed, or corporations. Taxes are class warfare in those cases. It’s not class warfare when the poor and middle classes are the targets. Its okay to use taxes to kill people in wars (even unjust wars) but it’s wrong to use taxes to pay for useful, life-affirming things like healthcare. Even for the veterans forced to go fight in those wars.

The Tea Party is always carrying on about the Constitution, but only parts of it. They love the second amendment and the tenth. They don’t like most of the rest. Some don’t like any of the amendments and want them all stripped away.

Life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Constitution gives us the right to seek these things. As Thomas Jefferson said, it is up to us to find them.

The Constitution all comes down to choices.

The Tea Party says that it wants to return to the government our Founding Fathers intended. But that’s not really true. What they are actually saying is that they want to return to a particular year – and stay there, as though the world has not changed and will never change.

One huge obstacle is that more than 200 years have passed. Things changed quite a bit between 1776 and 1787. They have changed a lot more since. It is no longer the 18th century, let alone 1787. Conservatism as a movement is about maintaining the status quo, but isn’t this taking things to extremes?

Another obstacle is the idea of the Constitution itself, the knowledge of the men who framed it that they could not foresee the future and that they needed to leave some matters for future generations to resolve. Conservatives revile the idea of a “living Constitution” because a living constitution violates the idea of status quo.

But look at the changing ideas about rights for a moment.

Thomas Jefferson was aware that slavery was an evil and he was aware that it was an evil that could not be resolved in his lifetime, not if a nation were to be constructed. The Thirteenth Amendment (1864) finally abolished slavery, and only after the horrors of a civil war.

Without amendments, quite a few people would be without rights. Not just slaves.

Just a few of these additional essential amendments are the 14th Amendment (1868), which protects the civil and political rights of all people born in the US; the 19th Amendment (1920), which grants voting rights to women; and the 24th Amendment (1964) which kept the southern states from denying voting rights to blacks by use of poll taxes.

The Tea Party says that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is central to their platform but the repeal of these amendments would make a mockery of that claim. Some people can pursue happiness, but others cannot?

And think about what we would lose: affordable health care, Medicare and Medicaid.

Put it against what we would gain: guns in our closets and state legislatures able to run roughshod over our constitutional rights.

So while the Constitution is about choices, and the Democrats still support choices, the Republican Party increasingly does not. The small tent analogy works well. There is not a lot of room inside, nor are there a lot of choices, as the purity drive and the political dynamics of the past two years have demonstrated.

For the most part, the Tea Party platform seems to be about what you can’t do rather than about what you can, whatever the rhetoric says.

Choice is a problem. Government is a problem because it guarantees those choices. The small government demanded by the Tea Party won’t have the power to offer those protections.

A simple way to look at the issue is to say that conservatives want to constrain your choices to a limited field of options while liberals want an unlimited or far less limited field.

In conservatism, choice itself becomes an illusion. Liberals want you to have a plethora of choices; choices are not evil but a bounty. Choice is freedom. It is liberty.

And wasn’t that after all what we fought the revolution for? Liberty?

But where is the value in choice if the menu looks like this: “You have freedom of religion but only if you choose to be Christian, and of course, you have to be a certain kind of Christian. After all, America was founded by and for Christians.”

Real choice, real liberty, is devalued by the limited menu offered by the Tea Party. In the America of Republican dreams, there is rhetoric but no substance. They want to “take America back” but they don’t want to share it. The Tea Party platform approaches nihilism. Even with other Americans. America, you see, is only for “real” Americans, who are increasingly White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant.

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